Scrutiny to become more powerful in Liverpool?

The concept of scrutiny in Councils isn’t something that sets the adrenalin flowing. However recent events in Liverpool have shown that for all councillors outside the Cabinet or committee chairs it is the most important thing that they can do.

That’s why I’m pleased that my Lib Dem colleague, , Kris Brown, become Chair of the new independent Audit Committee Labour and Lib Dem Parties should be a sign that the scrutiny process will become more important in in all the work of the City Council.

I find that immensely satisfying. Over the past decade I have raised issue after issue as have my Lib Dem colleagues. Faced with a granite wall of resistance from both officers and members in the past we have been unable to expose the many problems which were manifest within the Council.

The new Audit Committee will have much wider scope than on previously and Kris will be able to report directly to the Mayor, Cabinet and Full Council on committee findings. It is expected to be the local council equivalent of the powerful Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons. In short it will be the most important Committee of the Council outside Cabinet and it alone can insist on its reports being sent to both Cabinet and direct to full council.

It will be supported by an outside expert who can guide the committee in its work who is likely to be an experienced former Chief Finance Officer of a Council or similar body. It will control the internal and external audit functions of the Council. It can look at anything it pleases subject only to common sense and budgetary constraints.

It will also be able to look at the effectiveness of processes. Clearly, we can see from the Caller Report and other reports which have been submitted to meetings that for legal reasons had to be private that basic processes which should have applied to the use of taxpayers’ resources have been absent. These processes must be improved and wherever possible absolutely transparent.

As Kris Brown says, “I am very pleased to be accepting the role of Chair of the new Audit Committee. As we move forward as a council following the Caller investigation, the move to give opposition parties a greater say in the scrutiny of the council is welcomed. Despite my political affiliation, I will be fair and co-operative with all members of the council, as well as being robust in holding this administration to account alongside my Liberal Democrat colleagues”.

This is exactly the right approach. The scrutiny committees are called Select Committees at my instigation 20 years ago. The idea was that they would be independent and hold the Executive of Cabinet and senior members to account in a pragmatic and none-Party political way in the same way that the House of Commons and House of Lords Committees do for most of the time.

This is how they worked for much of when we controlled the Council. They stopped being that way when the Mayoralty was created in 2012.

* Cllr Richard Kemp CBE is the Leader of the Liverpool Liberal Democrats.

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